Executive Chef Melissa Miller
Location: Palo Alto, California
Number of people fed per day: 1,250
With Bon Appétit Management Company: 8 months
“This area of northern California was once covered with orange groves and fruit orchards. All of that is mostly gone now. At Bon Appétit Management Company, we’re doing what we can to preserve the pockets of local agriculture that still exist around the country. Because we buy and cook in volume for large companies, we can have a real impact on the livelihood of family farmers. That’s why, when you come in my café, you’ll find oranges and fresh squeezed juice from one of the last orange growers in the area. ”
Why I’m a chef:
My mother was a wonderful cook, and my father was a Long Island backyard gardener with a day job in the city. We’d work every night together in the garden after he got home from his job. There’s nothing like digging in the warm dirt with the sweet, heady aroma of tomato vines filling the air, all the while anticipating the flavor of those tomatoes on your dinner plate. That’s where flavor starts; in the soil. Throughout my career, it’s always been the farmers that have inspired me, and they’re the reason I started cooking, because of the appreciation of the labor of nurturing and harvesting food that my father’s garden instilled in me. I try to always think about the people who make everything I cook possible because their hard work often goes unrecognized. I cooked for many years before I ever went to culinary school. When I was the chef/partner of a restaurant in a small town on the coast of Alaska, I made connections with anyone growing anything there, as well as all the local hunters and fishermen. We created a cuisine that was truly local at that restaurant and it was challenging, because there isn’t much you can grow in Alaska. One early morning, I was baking one of the three or four kinds of bread we made from scratch every day and I looked outside and there was a moose standing in the backyard, almost close enough to touch. Seeing that moose early on a gorgeous summer morning was one of life’s perfect moments. I was doing exactly what I wanted in one of the world’s most beautiful places, yet, at that moment, I also knew that I’d experienced everything I could experience in Alaska and I needed to venture out and expand my cooking horizons. I moved to upstate New York and went to the CIA, graduated at the top of my class, and went on to work in restaurants as varied as The Border Grill, Stars, China Moon, and Left Bank. I learned a tremendous amount from some wonderful chefs over the years and I’m happy to bring my experience here to Bon Appétit Management Company where I can continue to learn, evolve, and also to share what I know.
What sustainable food means to me:
Sustainable food is about flavor. It’s about respect for the farmer and the earth. It’s the right thing to do and it tastes better. Sustainability encompasses everything from buying from local farmers to not wasting food because that would mean wasting the time and effort of the person who grew it. Sustainability allows farmers to keep doing what they do. Choosing to eat what’s local to our area is a simple, joyous way of eating. On Low Carbon Diet Day we took away items flown from far away like tropical fruits and certain seafoods, and also high carbon items like beef and cheese. We replaced our beef burger with an Asian-style pork burger, and the cheese in our antipasti bar with hummus and a variety of healthful nut spreads, like artichoke walnut spread. We offered a regional antipasti with items like white bean and fava salad, and local marinated sardines. When we unveiled our Low Carbon menus, one of our diners was enjoying his Low Carbon meal so much that he made the comment that it was a great idea and that it would be easy to live like that every day. Eating what’s local, available, and at its peak of freshness and flavor has a tremendous appeal. A lot of our work here is education. We name the farms that our food comes from and we talk to our diners about the carbon footprint of different food choices, and we do it in a way that is fun, while serving food that is packed with flavor and nutrition. This is how we bring people along with us on our mission of sustainable food, and our enthusiasm wins people over.
Why Bon Appétit Management Company is Different:
This is the only place I can imagine working that matches my standards for flavor, sourcing, and cooking practices. Once I heard about Bon Appétit Management Company, there was really no other choice. I had to work here. The food is a huge part of it, but it’s also the quality of life we have here and the mutual respect everyone has for one another. There’s a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie here that just doesn’t exist in many places.